Only a couple hours to go until kick-off in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal between Chelsea and Liverpool, which gives us just enough time to finish the second leg of our five-a-side question-answer match with The Redmen TV. So join me and Jack Harte (@hartejack) for a friendly chat. Or at least as friendly as we can get given the rivalry between the two teams and their respective fan-bases.
DP: We were probably lucky (and thankful to our goalkeeper) to escape with a 1-1 from Anfield, but now we come to Stamford Bridge where Chelsea are usually unassailable. How much inspiration does Bradford City give you? Or perhaps doesn't give you, along the lines of lightning not striking twice in such a short period of time?
JH: Tuesday’s performance provided further encouragement that we’re on the right track and, in terms of performance, was probably the high-point (thus far) of our improvement during the last month or two. We started confidently and it was pleasing that we reacted well despite going a goal behind during the first half.
Pundits have obviously been discussing whether your defeat at home to Bradford City is the greatest Cup shock of all time. Wherever you stand on that argument, we can agree that motivation will be high amongst your side to set the record straight with an assured performance. Your home record, particularly under Jose Mourinho, makes Stamford Bridge a formidable destination at the best of times but there’ll be an additional determination about you on Tuesday evening.
It’s our own performances of late – and particularly last week – rather than Bradford’s result, that has me looking forward to the match. We’re lacking an element of dependability in front of goal this season, which presents an issue – if we play our free-flowing front-foot stuff in the early stages, however, it’d be interesting to see how your crowd and team reacted to an early goal-against.
DP: Speaking of the FA Cup, what went wrong for Liverpool on the weekend? (Beyond not being able to cope with the mystical Magic of the FA Cup forces that were clearly in effect across the country.) Any tactical or motivational lessons learned?
JH: As mentioned above, we have players who can score goals but we lack players whom we can depend on to score goals. It’s been a familiar story all too often in recent years – Fernando Torres and a great season or two from Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard aside – and it’s something we’re lacking again this year in Daniel Sturridge’s absence. Sturridge seems to have the personality and the talent to cope with those demands – I just hope that the injuries can clear up from now on.
That said, Bolton put in a valiant effort at the back and Adam Bogdan had a strong game. They caused us a few problems themselves too, so we’re by no means thinking of a Crystal Palace trip at this stage.
DP: Daniel Sturridge? Will he? Won't he? Must he? (Play.) If not, will Sterling be able to carry the team tomorrow (and beyond if necessary)?
JH: The suggestion is that we’ll resist the temptation to use Sturridge and I’d not have any issue with that decision. I’m hoping that we’ll see him off the bench at the weekend, starting the Bolton replay, and raring to for the Merseyside Derby.
Raheem Sterling has led the line very effectively at times during our recent run – the Swansea City match at Anfield summed it up for me: his general performance was excellent and he helped involve the midfield to great effect, but his shortcomings were clear when presented with scenarios made for strikers. He’s produced some very good finishes (not least last week and with great composure last season at home to City) since arriving into the team but, again, its dependability in front of goal where he falls short.
DP: Over on our side, the name The Redmen TV immediately conjured up images of your very own Chris Pajak going on (rather sophomoric, it must be said) YouTube rants against Chelsea. Fans will be fans of course, but why do you think there's such deep-seated hatred between two teams from basically the opposite ends of the country?
JH: I’ll not be drawn too much here…misguided comments mixed with a tenuous claim to having been removed from context once ‘Vined’.
The rivalry is indeed very intense and must appear an odd one to outsiders. Looking at recent history, the intense run of meetings between the clubs no-doubt fueled the rivalry, as Rafa Benitez, Roman Abramovich, and Jose Mourinho re-asserted their respective clubs on maps they’d only recently truly re-appeared on – both the context of the meetings and the events of the matches themselves.
Looking at the rivalry more broadly, there are clearly some deep-rooted identity elements at play: you’re everything we’re not, and vice versa – for better or for worse on both sides.
DP: Care to offer a prediction?
JH: Always a tough gig at your place – nevertheless, we’ll score an early goal and add a late one in a whirlwind of youthful naivety to claim our ticket to the final with a 2-0 away win.